Where Do Books Go?

Of course I worry that I am not reading all the books that need to be read, but should I have to worry at the same time that there are not enough books?  Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers (I’ve been reading the Loeb, translated by R. D. Hicks) has dozens of pages listing the works of philosophers from Aristotle to Zeno of Citium, many or all of which are lost.  This Diogenes lived in the third century and, unlike the Diogenes who lived in a tub and helped found cynicism, is not known for being particularly original or bright.  He is, however, one of the few sources on ancient philosophers who were not Plato or Aristotle.  Some interesting lost titles given are Aristotle’s Laws of the Mess Table and A Reply to the Pythagoreans, Theophrastus’ On Riot, Strato’s On Enthusiasm, Demetrius’ On the Ten Years of His Own Supremacy and Of the Beam in the Sky, the Cynic’s Jackdaw and On Death.  I suppose it was from a case like Sophocles, who I learned quite a while ago had written not just seven plays, but over a hundred, that I got the idea that lost books are an occasion for mourning and vain speculation.  There’s no way of summarizing the effect of Diogenes’ lists and their blend of the mundane, the overworked, the strange.  On Fatigues, On Motion, On Precious Stones, On Pestilences, On Fainting… they just go on and on.  Suddenly I’m having a much easier time resigning myself to the idea, not only that I’ll never read these books, but that I’ll never read most books.  It’s not that I rest easy in the assumption that what survives, our Plato, Xenophon, and Aristotle, our Herodotus and Thucydides, our three tragedians, is the best there was.  However, there is perspective to be had in the realization that all of the authors writing today, though they take themselves ever so seriously, in philosophy or whatever else, would be lucky to find themselves as well off as humble Diogenes after a thousand years or so.  Hopefully in the next post I can prove that Diogenes is one of those authors worth reading.

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